This was a remarkable week indeed at the General Assembly. It is now clear that legislation supported by Senate leaders would allow public employees to refuse to provide state services based on race.
That startling fact arose in a debate over a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger that would allow magistrates and employees in registers of deeds offices to refuse to marry same-sex couples because of a “sincerely held religious objection.”
The legislation does not define “sincerely held religious objection” or specify who decides if a magistrate’s objection would qualify.
Magistrates and registers of deeds would simply be allowed to “recuse themselves from performing all lawful marriages” if they cited a religious objection, even though performing marriages is part of their job.
Senator Buck Newton was presenting Berger’s bill to the Senate Judiciary—Berger was delayed by the winter weather—and at one point a legislative staff member was asked if the proposal would also allow magistrates to refuse to marry interracial couples or couples of different faiths.
The answer apparently is yes, that it is ok with the elected leaders of the state Senate if public employees refuse to provide public services to taxpayers because of the taxpayers’ race or religion or sexual orientation.
It’s not only a move to codify bigotry and discrimination in access to civil marriage ceremonies, it raises all sort of interesting questions.
Can a DMV worker refuse to provide a driver’s license to an African-American or a Muslim or a Jew? Can a state supervisor refuse to hire a woman out of a sincerely held religious belief that woman should stay at home and not enter the workforce?
Can a state employee refuse to work alongside someone of a different race or religion or sexual orientation by citing a sincerely held religious objection? Where does it stop and who decides?
Sen. Newton seems to think he should. Newton said his remarks about the proposal that “marriage was created by God between a man and a woman, that’s my belief,” and that he doesn’t think that judges are smarter that God.
Apparently Newton also thinks that his particular belief about what God wants should trump rulings from federal courts that North Carolina, as part of the United States, is obligated to obey.
Senator Bill Cook thanked Newton for sponsoring the bill, calling it a “much needed remedy to a sad situation.” The situation being that gay couples, now legally qualified to marry in North Carolina, are deciding to exercise their rights like every other citizen and taxpayer.
Newton and Cook and Berger apparently believe that public employees should be allowed to deny citizens those rights and refuse the services if they claim that it violates their religious views.
The bill simply tries to legalize discrimination. Period.
Nobody forces people to be magistrates or work in registers of deeds offices. If they can’t perform the duties the job requires for whatever reason, they should find another job that they are more comfortable doing.
The fundamental rights of people in North Carolina are guaranteed by the constitution and the courts and cannot be left up to the vaguely defined religious objections of public employees or subject to the religious views of a state Senator.
Governor Pat McCrory has yet to weigh in on Berger’s ridiculous legislation. He needs to soon, and let lawmakers know the veto stamp is ready if the bill passes the House and Senate.
It is the twenty-first century after all, whether Berger or Newton realize it or not.